The following is an excerpt from When Race Trumps Merit: How The Pursuit of Equity Sacrifices Excellence, Destroys Beauty, and Threatens Lives
From Fidelio to The Soldier’s Tale, some of history’s greatest compositions are being co-opted as social-justice propaganda
For decades now, opera directors in Europe and the United States have felt licensed to revise operas to conform to their political agendas. These directors did so through wildly incongruous stagings that updated an opera’s plot to modern times and introduced progressive totems that would have been unfathomable to the opera’s original creator. Such directorial interventions left the libretto (i.e., the text) intact, however. Now even that cordon sanitaire between the structure of a work and an interpreter’s political preferences has been breached.
In February 2022, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City hosted a production of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, produced by Heartbeat Opera. The opera is an Enlightenment paean to freedom and to marital love. In Beethoven’s version of the opera, a wife disguises herself as a male prison guard to free her husband from a Spanish fortress; at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fidelio became a Black Lives Matter critique of mass incarceration.
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Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, contributing editor at City Journal. Her latest book is When Race Trumps Merit.
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